Tobold's Blog
Monday, March 10, 2014
Role-playing and games

I was reading Ravious' declaration of love for the 13th Age pen & paper role-playing game system. And I couldn't help but notice that the first half of the cited strong points of the system, covering character creation and narration, are in fact not system specific at all. That is if you play any other role-playing system, be it Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, or even non-fantasy systems, asking your players what the "one unique thing" about their character is on creation would work just as well.

Basically a pen & paper role-playing game has two parts: The role-playing and the game. The role-playing is either not bound by rules at all, or can use rules from many different sources. The 13th Age "rules" book has a long description of the world and the icons, the major players in that world. It has "rules" about how to create a great background story for your character, or how to handle story-telling. And all these things aren't so much "rules" as rather suggestions on how to encourage good role-playing. Most of these suggestions work just as well in any other pen & paper role-playing system.

The good news about this is that you can use the 13th Age book as an accessory for whatever other system you want to play, in the case that you don't want to switch systems. The bad news is that the other half of the book then isn't of much use to you. Game mechanics are far more difficult to transplant from one system to another, although I thought that I might give the "escalation dice" from 13th Age a try in my 4E campaign to make combat shorter. But to give a counter-example, you wouldn't want to copy a spell from one system to another, as they might use very different numbers for health and damage.

Similar considerations apply if you want to invent house rules for a pen & paper role-playing game: As long as those rules cover the role-playing part, it is relatively easy. But you fiddle with the rules of the underlying game part at your own peril, as that might affect the balance of the game. So adding a new race to D&D is relatively easy, as long as you keep the racial bonuses and powers roughly in line with the existing ones. Adding a new class or making major changes to how a class works tends to be far more dangerous.

Ravious' review actually prompted me to read the 13th Age book, and I have to say I was impressed.

The one thing I'd point out is, while you are absolutely correct when you say that you can roleplay with any RPG system (D&D, Pathfinder, WhiteWolf, etc..); some systems, because of the way they are written and constructed ("rules" vs Rules), lead themselves more to the Roleplaying crowd or the Rollplaying crowd. The closer you get to "a rule for everything", the more gamist your players become. Both from attracting more gamist players, and from usually non-gamist players subconsciously shifting to a more gamist playstyle (thanks to the extensive rules system).
I've been sold on 13th Age for a while now, and have been blogging about it a fair bit. I will say, things like the "One Unique Thing" can be ported to other games, but it works well in 13th Age because the game design implicitly supports and encourages it's use. If you try porting it to Pathfinder or other games the usual problems arise in which the OUT has to be regarded within the framework of the other rules...and the result is usually something slightly less unique unless you're really into hacking your game system a bit.

Anyway, 13th Age is the first cutting-edge new-era RPG that I've seen in a long time which gives me the same feel as older editions of D&D, and encourages the more free-form style of old school play that is noted for its tendency to encourage fast play and creative decision making.
I agree with the previous posters - just because something is possible doesn't mean it will happen.

The other think I like is the *short* backstories. I've been playing Mush lately, and originally each character had a page of detailed back story. Now it's been reduced to three sentences and it's much better.

People need to be pushed into focusing on the right things. Otherwise, why would we need game designers at all? In THEORY, people who never heard of an RPG could sit down and run a campaign! In practice, the rules are what bring them together in a coherent drama.
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